Jesus: The Human Face of God

Jesus: The Human Face of God

by Jay Parini

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Jesus: The Human Face of God 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Memorandum Date: December 29, 2013 Re: JESUS THE HUMAN FACE OF GOD by Jay Parini, Icons Series, 2013 In general, I found this book interesting and a more spiritual discussion of Jesus and his ministry than other books that I have read recently like Zealot by Reza Aslan. The Preface and Chapter Four especially the discussion and parsing of the Sermon on the Mount (page 54 et.seq.) are excellent. Nonetheless, I am troubled about some statements in the book, ones for which there is little or no historical evidence and others from an interfaith and Jewish perspective that suggest a Supersessionist reading of the Gospel. By supersession, I mean the historical and now somewhat discredited view that Christianity superseded Judaism and that the Jewish Covenant is no longer valid. Turning first to the references that suggest that Christianity superseded Judaism, Parini on pages 65, 72, 95 and 107 refers to the new covenant between God and humanity. Since the Gospels in places refer to such a covenant, citing them in the book is appropriate. Nonetheless, some elaboration of the change in the Christian view of the Jewish Covenant would have been equally appropriate. Permitting this idea to stand is not compatible, in my view, with the evolving change in the Christian view of Judaism. In connection with Parini’s discussion of the Sermon on the Mount, he writes about the Antitheses. In so doing he says that “They amplify Mosaic laws in significant ways.” (Page 60). Perhaps I am reading too much into what Parini is saying here, but it sounds to my Jewish ear that he is suggesting that Jesus is saying these Antitheses are superior to the Mosaic laws. In discussing the “Golden Rule” at page 68, Parini mentions that the idea of this rule was articulated by Rabbi Hillel and has been called the “Silver Rule.” Hillel’s version is at times paraphrased as “what is hateful to you do not do to others.” Calling Hillel’s rule silver and Jesus’ rule gold is a clear statement that, as Jesus states it, his is superior. Historically, Hillel’s version has been called, I believe, by non-Jews, the negative Golden Rule. (See Commentary in the Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Edited by Dr. J.H. Hertz, Second Edition, Soncino Press, 1975, pages 501, 502, 563 and 564.) Parini should have referred to Leviticus 19:18, “but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself:” which I believe is the proof text for both Hillel and Jesus. Contrasting the language of the rules as silver and gold is not a fair reading of them and suggests Christian superiority in how the rule is stated. That superiority is not supported by the Shared or Jewish Testament. In the Passion Narrative chapter of his book, chapter 6, Parini refers to the Jewish crowd which it may have been without also mentioning that it was mainly the Jewish establishment that wanted Jesus crucified. Moreover, and significantly at page 111, Parini states that since Jesus was crucified, “his offense was technically against Roman, not Jewish laws.” What does he mean by technically and what was the Roman law for which Jesus was crucified? In the context of this chapter, a fair reading is that Jesus was crucified for violations of Jewish laws not unspecified Roman law. The reference to the Jewish crowd and the use of the word “technically” in my mind supports my assertion. In addition, at page 110, when Parini is talking about the crowd demanding Jesus’ crucifixion the demand is for violating a Jewish law, not a Roman law. Parini concludes the fourth full paragraph of this page as follows: “Only death would satisfy their bloodlust.” Bloodlust for Jews is such a loaded word when Jews were charged with blood libel in the Middle Ages and beyond that Parini might have chosen his words more carefully. Finally, in the conclusion of the passion narrative page 117, Parini quotes Abelard as saying that “Jesus became, in effect, the suffering servant of Isaiah” ignoring entirely the historical context for Israel of the Book of Isaiah. Regarding my concern about historical accuracy, I have only minor comments. Parini finds Buddhist and Hindu concepts in Jesus like Karma and one of the four “Noble Truths” of Buddhism in the Sermon on the Mount. I am not aware of any documented evidence that Jesus had any knowledge of Buddhism or even that Buddhism was known in the second temple period in Palestine. In addition, Parini says that what became known as the last supper may have been the Passover meal “or seder.”(Page 94). My understanding is that the Seder as such was not developed until the Rabbinic Period well after Jesus’ death. Parini also asserts that three disciples fell asleep perhaps because of the four cups of wine they drank that were required by Jewish law at the Passover meal. I am not sure and I could not find any time when this requirement became part of Jewish law.